Internet Campaigning in T&T

Internet Campaigning, T&T style
By Mark Lyndersay
Published in the Trinidad Guardian on September 24, 2007 alongside an evaluation of the party websites by Lisa Allen-Agostini.

The first place that you'd expect the political parties to campaign on the Internet would be on their web pages, but that's largely not the case. The websites for the PNM, UNC Alliance and COP are professionally manicured examples of corporate-style salesmanship.
Of the three, only the UNC Alliance gives us a break from Flash on the front page, while the COP features Winston Dookeran (apparently on his way to a convenient phone booth) with messaging fading in and out around him.
The PNM's page looks eerily similar to the official Government home page both in design and in content, with party announcements looking quite similar to the formal governmental pronouncements at

The PNM also doesn't seek funding for its campaign on its website, which both the COP and UNC Alliance make a priority item on their front pages.
Beyond placeholder pages, the only reason to take the political race to the Internet is to persuade the largest group of undecided voters in Trinidad and Tobago, the 35 and under group that has expressed little interest in voting as a way of creating social change.
Five years go, both parties had forums that became a hotbed for political rivalries, with flame wars and often blunt diatribe raging back and forth. There doesn't seem to be any of that kind of fun happening yet in this run-up to the campaign, but there are other web spaces for another generation of potential voters (and jokers).
One of the most popular is Facebook, a social networking website that offers an audience of young Trinidadians that far exceeds any group that might stumble across a party's political meeting. The Trinidad and Tobago network page on Facebook lists more than 25,000 users.

The COP is the only party that has taken their campaign to Facebook, with Winston Dookeran himself hosting a page and making regular postings. Well, those postings are attributed to Dookeran, but the regularity of additions and the enthusiasm with which he is joining special interest groups suggests that either a savvy hireling is handling the Facebook updates or Dooks is an insomniac.
The COP isn't the only local party represented on Facebook, but it's presence there and on Hi5 is exhaustingly enthusiastic. On both Facebook and Hi5 there are entries for Dookeran the person and the COP the group (Cop Cop on FB, there's also a Congress of the People group), so Winston Dookeran the Hi5 user appears on the COP Hi5 group entry as a "friend."
Dookeran's Facebook page lists a dauntingly thorough list of contact information, including an entry for , which at this writing is listed as an expired domain - probably the wrong message to be sending right now.
The UNC is represented by three users advocating the party, though none of them appears to be operating with the official sanction of the opposition party.

The most official PNM page on Facebook is the persuasively sober "People's National Movement P.N.M." entry, which is managed by the "PNM People" user and lists contact information and offers official looking snaps.
There's nothing of note for either Manning or the PNM on Hi5 or MySpace (which has been largely ignored by all three parties), but searches for the PNM on both MySpace and YouTube turn up the unusual popularity of pirate ninja monkeys.
The freedoms that social networking websites offer to their contributors make it possible for anyone to create a page that purports to represent a special interest, so all three entries for the user Patrick Manning on Facebook are repositories for generally mild but largely unfunny heckling.
But anonymity has its upsides, and there are at least two blogs created by unidentified contributors that are worth following this election season.

The Manicou Report has been around for a bit, and its author claims to be a UWI student airing his opinions. The writing is clear and pointed, unfettered by partisan thinking and disturbingly funny.
For laugh out loud funny, you must read "The Secret Blog of Patrick Manning," a hilarious entry in the "fake blog" sweepstakes that is sharply relevant and pleasantly amusing. I'd go so far as to say that even PNM stalwarts will find many entries on this blog entertaining. The anonymous author strikes a winning balance between cruelly accurate satire and an appreciation of the Trini way in his portrayal of an embattled, slightly eccentric PM recording his thoughts on a 'secret' blog.

In sum, the profile of all three parties seems to reflect their real world concerns. Dookeran, who makes no bones about being a wonk, has the strongest presence on the Internet, particularly targeting young voters with spirited virtual baby kissing. The PNM has always tended to treat the virtual world as if it were inhabited by soucoyants, acknowledging its existence while staying as far away from it as humanely possible.
The real surprise this time around is the haphazard, unfocused UNC presence, which was much stronger five years ago and feels very much like an afterthought in 2007, their website a well-tended, but uninspiring checkbox on the road to the polls.

This isn't the first piece on Internet campaigning and public feedback. Georgia Popplewell's overview of Internet use in the Jamaica elections and the run-up to T&T elections is
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